You may already know that websites like Facebook and Google have a tendency to track your every move online, learning about your browsing habits in an effort to target the appropriate advertisements to you. That’s why after a session of virtual shoe shopping, you suddenly start seeing ads for shoes all over the place. It’s not your imagination, it’s the magic of tracker cookies.
Recently, Facebook announced that they would begin tracking the browsing habits of people who aren’t even members of the site. Every time you open a page and see one of those Facebook “like” buttons, there’s a little piece of code there ready to spy on what you’re looking at. It’s a little creepy and intrusive, especially if you’re a person who has purposely avoided signing up for Facebook specifically because you want to protect your privacy.
Luckily, there are a few measures you can take to safeguard your browsing habits. Nothing is 100 percent reliable but it’s better to have some protection than nothing at all.
Disconnect for Chrome and Firefox is a browser extension that blocks tracking requests from the most common culprits like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and various other advertisers. Once installed, you’ll have a button in your toolbar that keeps a real time count of how many requests are blocked, showing you who exactly is trying to access your browsing history.
AdBlock Plus is another extension for Chrome and Firefox that blocks most ads from loading. With both of these tools working together, you’ll likely never see another ad again and never have to worry about them disrupting your browsing or loading creepy tracking cookies. This one even stops those annoying commercials that play before Youtube videos.
Flush is a download for Mac OS X that will clear any Flash cookies that have been stored on your computer. When you interact with Flash objects like videos, they can sometimes leave little cookies hidden in your hard drive to keep track of what you’ve been watching and target ads and suggested videos to you. You can clear them out on your own but it takes some digging to find the right folder to delete, which can be a bad idea if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Run Flush every once in a while and it will delete them all in seconds.
CCleaner is another great download for Mac that will clear out your entire browsing history, including all of the cookies. This will protect you both from nefarious online trackers and from the nosy people who might share your computer. You can also set it to clean out old unused files and leftover fragments from stuff you thought you deleted, so it’s a great choice for generally speeding up your computer too.
In a world where our personal information is for sale and privacy is mostly all in our heads, it isn’t easy to protect yourself. Nothing can keep you totally safe unless you decide to just quit the internet, throw your computer in the ocean, and move to a cabin in the woods. These solutions can be helpful, but you’re still browsing at your own risk.